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A decedent dies without a will, survived by his spouse, his brother, his niece (the sole issue of the decedent’s deceased sister), and his mother. In most states, to whom will the decedent’s estate be distributed? Under UPC? In RI?

If a decedent is survived by a spouse but no descendants, the surviving spouse takes the entire estate.

Under the UPC, however, the decedent’s parents would also share the estate.

In RI, the spouse takes a life estate in decedent's realty plus an additional $75,000 worth of realty in fee simple. Mother has a remainder interest. The spouse takes $50,000 of personalty plus one-half. The mother takes the other half as nearest kin.


How are the intestate shares of descendants distributed:

  1. Strict per stirpes,
  2. Per capita with representation,
  3. Per capita at each generation

Majority rule: per capita with representation:

Property is divided into equal shares at the first generational level at which there are living takers, and the shares of deceased persons at that level pass to their issue by representation.

Common law, minority of states (RI included): strict per stirpes

Property is divided into equal shares at the child level regardless of whether they are living, and the shares of deceased persons at that level pass to their issue by representation. 

Modern trend & UPC: per capital at each generation:

Property is divided into equal shares at the first generational level at which there are living takers, and shares of deceased persons are combined and divided equally at the next generational level.


If a decedent dies without a will and is not survived by a spouse or by descendants, in which order does the estate pass?

parents, descendants of parents, grandparents, descendants of grandparents, nearest kin


When are assets disposed of by intestate succession?

  1. Decendent dies without a will
  2. Will isn't admitted to probate
  3. Will doesn't dispose of all of decedent's assets (partial intestacy).


When do nonmarital children inherit their parents?

Always inherits mother.

Inherits father only if:

  • marries mother after child born;
  • adjudicated to be father in paternity suit; or
  • proved during probate to be father by clear and convincing evidence.


What rights do stepchildren and foster children have?

What about adopted children?

What about half bloods?

Stepchildren and foster children have no inheritance rights, no matter how close the relationship.

Adopted children are treated as natural children. However, except in RI, the adopted child doesn't inherit the child's natural parent or vice versa.

Siblings with only one common parent inherit equally.


The entirety of a testator’s will provides, “I do not want my daughter to take any of my estate.” If the testator is survived by only the daughter and a son, how will the testator’s estate be distributed?

one-half to the son and one-half to the daughter. A will provision that expressly disinherits an heir is ineffective if the testator dies partially intestate. Here, the testator’s will provides that the daughter is not to share in the estate but does not make any disposition of his property. Thus, the testator’s estate will pass pursuant to the intestacy statutes; his intent as to any property that passes under the statutes is irrelevant


The decedent and her only child were involved in a plane crash. Neither was alive when the emergency team reached them. The child, who died without a will, is survived by a spouse. The decedent is survived by only a brother. The decedent left a sizeable intestate estate and a life insurance policy naming the child the sole beneficiary. Who will share in the decedent’s estate, and who will take the insurance proceeds?

Under USDA, enacted by about one-half of the states, when the title to property or its devolution depends on priority of death and there is no sufficient evidence that the persons have died otherwise than simultaneously, the property of each person is disposed of as if he had survived. Here, both parties were dead when help arrived; thus, there is no sufficient evidence that one survived the other. Therefore, the decedent’s estate will be distributed as though she survived the child (i.e., as though the child predeceased the decedent). If the child predeceased the decedent, the decedent’s brother is her only intestate heir and will take the estate. The USDA also applies to life insurance, so the insurance proceeds will be paid to the decedent’s estate and also pass to the brother. Because the child is deemed to have predeceased the decedent, the child, and thus the child’s spouse, takes nothing.


Is extrinsic evidence admissible to show that a pretermitted child was intentionally left out of the will?

Extrinsic evidence can be used to interpret an ambiguous will provision where the intent of the testator isn't apparent from the will. 

A pretermitted child will not take a share only if it appears from the will itself that the omission was intentional. 

No extrinsic evidence will be allowed to show that the omission of a child was intentional. 

In RI, the court presumes a child's omission wasn't intentional and the burden is on those who would benefit from the omission to prove it was intentional.


If one of two joint tenants kills the other, how is title to the property held?

killer and the victim’s estate each own one-half of the property as tenants in common. While one who feloniously and intentionally brings about the death of a decedent forfeits any interest in the decedent’s estate, if the killer is instead a joint tenant with the victim, the killing only severs the right of survivorship; tenancy in common remains.


What is a lifetime gift made to an heir with the intent that the gift be applied against the heir’s intestate share and how is that gift treated when the decedent dies?

An advancement. the advanced share is added back into the estate for the purpose of calculating the intestate shares of all of the heirs. The advancee has his share reduced by the amount of the advancement but need not return any excess.


Is a lifetime gift to an heir presumed to be an advancement under common law, in most states today, and in RI?

Common law: presumed to be an advancement only if made to child.

Today: not presumed to be an advancement to any heir unless intended as such; under UPC intent shown (i) in contemporaneous writing by donor or (ii) acknowledged by heir as such (needn't be contemporaneous).

RI: not presumed to be an advancement unless (i) parent to child or grandparent to grandchild; and (ii) noted in memorandum or delivered expressly for that purpose in the presence of two witnesses who took note of same.


If the advancee predeceases the intestate, is an advancement binding upon those who succeed to the advancee's estate?

Yes, but under the UPC not unless the required writing says it is.


If a will isn't executed properly, may it still be admitted?

Under the UPC, the court may ignore harmless errors if the will proponent establishes by clear and convincing evidence that T intended the document to be his will. Not in RI.


To execute a valid attested will what counts as the attesting witnesses signing "in the presence" of each other? Majority and RI rules.

Most states require that each partry is

  • conscious of where the other parites were
  • what they were doing, and
  • signed with general awareness and cognizence of each other.

Minority view (RI): witnesses and testator signs in such close proximity that they could have seen the signing had they looked.


To execute a valid attested will in RI, must the testator sign the will in the presence of two attesting witnesses who must sign in the presence of each other?

No. Some states do require the witnesses to sign in the presence of each other.


When a bequeathed or devised item is not in a testator's estate at his death, what does the court consider in determining whether the bequest is adeemed? In RI? Under UPC?

If the item is a specific devise or bequest, it's adeemed. General legacies (specific dollar amount) and demonstrative legacies (specifies asset as source for specific dollar amount) aren't adeemed. The testator's intent is irrelevant in most states. Courts try to avoid ademption unless clear intent otherwise (e.g., "my GM stock").

If specifically devised property is sold by a guardian or a conservator, however, devisee is entitled to a general pecuniary legacy equal to the amount of the proceeds.

In RI and states that consider the testator’s intent, the court would consider whether property was acquired as a replacement and whether proceeds were placed in a separate account.

UPC: a specific devisee has the right to any real property owned by T at death that was acquired as a replacement for the specifically devised property.



What is the doctrine of ademption by extinction?

If there's been a substantial change in the nature and character of its subject matter, a bequest is adeemed. Nominal and formal changes aren't substantial.


A testator signs his will in front of two witnesses. Immediately after the witnesses sign, the testator remembers that he wanted to include a legacy of $5,000 to his friend Fred. After explaining this to the witnesses and while still in their presence, the testator handwrites the legacy directly under his signature. The witnesses both give the testator the thumbs up. In most states, is the additional legacy valid?

Clauses added after the will is signed and witnessed are unattested words regardless of whether they appear before or after the testator’s signature; only the words present on the will at the time it was signed are part of the duly executed will.


What is an equivocation and what is its effect? In RI?

A will's description of a beneficiary or property that describes more than one person or item of property.

Other than in RI, extrinsic evidence, including testimony of the testator’s declarations, is admissible to determine which beneficiary or item of property was intended.


What will a court do when the language of a will is ambiguous?

Interpret the will looking at the four corners. And, other than in RI, consider any admissible extrinsic evidence (other than testator's own declarations) to determine the testator’s intent.


What happens to a will where an attesting witness is also a beneficiary and that witness's beneficial interest?

Will is valid but the gift to the witness-beneficiary is void unless she (i) was a supernumerary witness (i.e., the will can be proved by two other disinterested witnesses); or (ii) would have taken if the will were not admitted to probate (i.e., she would have been an heir if there were no will or was given a bequest in an earlier will that she did not witness). In the latter case, the beneficiary takes the lesser of (i) the legacy, or (ii) her intestate share (or gift under the earlier will).


If one of the necessary attesting witnesses cannot be located, may an attestation clause or a self-proving affidavit be substituted for the courtroom testimony of that witness?

A self-proving affidavit may be substituted for the courtroom testimony of that witness. However, an attestation clause, which appears immediately below the signature line for the testator and above the witnesses’ signatures and recites the elements of due execution, does not constitute sworn testimony and thus cannot serve as a substitute for the courtroom testimony of the attesting witnesses. But, it is prima facie evidence of the facts recited therein


A testator executes a valid holographic will, which leaves $10,000 to Ben and the residue to Rhonda. Two years later, the testator crosses out the bequest to Ben and writes above it “$20,000 to Beth.” If the will remains the same at the testator’s death, what is the effect of the testator’s action?

states that recognize holographic wills give effect to handwritten changes made by the testator after the holographic will is completed. Thus, the testator’s changes here will be given effect


A valid holographic (not in RI) will requires what?

A valid holographic will requires a signed writing in which all of the material provisions are in the testator’s handwriting. A holographic will has no attesting witnesses, and most states do not require that a holographic will be dated.


What question is the doctrine of integration addressing and what are its requirements?

What sheets were present at the time of will execution and comprise decedent's will?

Will proponent must show that pages offered for probate were present at the will’s execution and intended by the testator to be a part of the will.

Intent shown by physical connection of pages, internal coherence of provisions from page to page, or pages read together set out an orderly dispositional plan. Can be established by extrinsic evidence.


What is the doctrine of incorporation by reference? 

Extrinsic document not present at the time the will was executed may be probated as part of the will if: (i) the document was in existence at the time the will was executed, (ii) the will sufficiently describes the document to permit its identification, and (iii) the will manifests an intent to incorporate the document.


What is the doctrine of acts of independent significance?

A will may dispose of property by reference to future or unattested acts and events (whether of testator or of third person) that have significance apart from their effect on the dispositions made by the will.

e.g., bequest "to each person in my employ at the time of my death" because it's presumed that testator won't make employment decisions solely to dispose of property. 

e.g., will may provide that the testator’s property is to be distributed in accordance with the subsequently executed will of another person


What is the difference between a general and special power of appointment

General: power exercisable in favor of the donee herself, her estate, her creditors, or the creditors of her estate.

Special: power exercisable in favor of a limited class of appointees that does not include the donee, her estate, her creditors, or the creditors of her estate.


What happens to a will made prior to marriage? In RI?

Other than in RI, marriage subsequent to a will’s execution does not revoke the will by operation of law.

In RI, it revokes the will unless made in contemplation of marriage.